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A Second Chance

A Second Chance

Vorschau lesen

A Second Chance

Länge:
310 Seiten
4 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Sep 11, 2017
ISBN:
9781370964413
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

We've all said "If I knew then what I know now," but for Jon Steele that expression has become his reality. A freak accident gives Jolly a shot a reliving his life.
Can he overcome Fate's influence and make the most of "A Second Chance?"

Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Sep 11, 2017
ISBN:
9781370964413
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor


Buchvorschau

A Second Chance - John Migacz

Roosevelt

Chapter 1

November, 1981

Jolly slammed on the brakes. His truck skidded to a halt in the gravel parking lot of the construction site. In the sudden silence, the truck radio blared Billy Joel’s Angry Young Man. The final lyric about going to the grave as a bitter old man struck home. He flicked off the radio.

Screw you, Billy, he said to the empty cab. He got out, slammed the door hard and headed to the work area. The last refrain of the song taunted him, rasping through his mind like a rusty saw. He frowned as he jammed his faded-yellow hardhat over his dark hair and tightened the work belt under his large belly. Screw you, Billy. Screw you twice!

A horn blared, dashing the song from Jolly’s head as the coffee roach-coach rumbled into the construction yard. The dirty van beckoned like a brightly colored flower in the dark swamp that was his life. He shambled his three-hundred-plus-pound bulk toward the vividly painted truck to get his fix from the sugar pusher. Thoughts of coffee and donuts gave the allure of pleasure, but they would fail to fulfill, as always. Hopefully the sugar, fat and caffeine cocktail would numb his senses to the bleakness that had settled on his soul.

Food added a dimension to his life separate from the anger. Anger burned in him constantly, and he knew to keep it well-stoked. Without rage blazing in his heart, his world and his soul became barren landscapes drained of all color and life. Controlled fury held back the total nothingness that always threatened to swallow him.

Jolly stood six-foot-one and had once weighed one-ninety with a body that was all muscle. Muscle and speed. Now, as he lumbered through the construction yard toward the smell of strong coffee and exhaust fumes, the muscle and speed were just a shadowy memory.

A sudden breeze had him glancing westward. Above the building’s framework of steel, scudding clouds ran before thunderheads in the distance. They promised a wet, miserable, workday.

Good.

A rainy day would help feed his anger. Anger would help him fight off his bitterness about last night. He had messed up last night. Messed up big. He felt like he’d fumbled on the winning drive at the Super Bowl, and self-condemnation threatened to crush him. Anger as a weapon against guilt was stupid, but it worked for him.

He nodded to several other men and joined the line that inched forward like frozen sludge through a sewer pipe. He ignored casual conversation and stared at the handwritten menu taped to the truck. The menu was the same as always, but today it seemed to offer more than it had in the past. Could last night’s chance meeting have anything to do with that? Did it and the menu offer more? He studied the list again. Should he order something different to shake up his life? The idea stirred something inside of him, something that floated up slowly like a bright bubble trapped in tar.

The paper-hatted vendor wiped his hands on his dirty apron and leaned over the counter. Hi, Jolly. Same-same?

Jolly’s automatic nod lanced the bright bubble. The door inside him that had released the feeling slammed shut.

The vendor handed Jolly his usual order of three powdered jelly donuts and sweet coffee. Jolly pushed one donut into his mouth and mashed down on it, forcing it into his cheek. The sweet filling slid down his throat.

Hey, Jolly. Those are donuts, not Tic Tacs! yelled an unfamiliar voice.

The gathered construction crew laughed.

Jolly’s eyes found the transgressor. The nickname Jolly was given to him as an ironic misnomer - he was anything but.

Harry, right? he said around the donut. Harry had only been with the crew a week, not long enough to offer joking insults. Jolly closed the distance between them and leaned his 300 pound bulk in toward Harry. I just wanted to make sure I got it right. He stared hard at his detractor, swallowed, and shoved another donut into his mouth. His eyes dared Harry to make another comment.

The crew’s laughter died. The young man took a step backward, holding out his hands in supplication. Hey, Jolly. Easy! I was only kidding.

Jolly nodded once and broke the stare. During his thirty-four years on this earth, he had learned when to push it and when to let it go.

That was a pretty good one, though, said Jeff, the crew foreman.

Grins returned to the group’s faces, and even Jolly smiled.

The conversation swirled around him as he stirred his coffee.

… another accident on the night shift…

…second one…

…not properly braced…

… cutting corners is dumbass…

Jeff held up a hand. Guys, listen up. It’s safety first. I don’t want any accidents on my shift.

What’s the big rush? asked Harry.

Jeff shrugged. I heard rumors about a big bonus if this high-rise is brought in on time.

Great! I could use some extra cash, said Harry.

Jolly snorted at the naiveté and sipped his coffee. The sweet liquid burned his tongue.

The foreman shook his head. Listen, newbie. We’ll never see any of it. Money is the domain of the bosses, and money makes for a lot of pressure. You know what they say…

Yeah, shit flows downhill. Harry smiled at his own remark then glanced over Jolly’s shoulder. His smile died. Speaking of shit, here comes Anderson.

As the site engineer marched toward the group, the hardhatted men drifted away to once more become faceless robots erecting steel. Jolly didn’t move. Slowly chewing his donut, he again considered the safety problems created by Anderson’s corner-cutting. Jolly had analyzed the danger and accepted the risk. It didn’t matter if something happened to him anyway.

For a second, he wondered how he had fallen this low. The question flitted through his mind like a sound heard but not recognized. His real name was Jon Steele and the sleeping man inside him fit that name better than the outer shell that responded to the name Jolly.

Steele!

He didn’t turn around. He didn’t want to look at the pompous Anderson any sooner than necessary.

Steele! yelled Anderson from a yard away.

Jolly stuffed the last donut in his mouth and turned.

I need that slab ripped up by noon today!

Jolly stared with disgust at the little man. He wore his red power tie like a badge of rank, as if a person not wearing one could only be a mindless lackey. When Anderson spoke to anyone, he always tilted his head back. At first, Jolly had thought Anderson’s short stature forced him to look upward at most men, but now he realized it was the smaller man’s way of looking down his nose at people he considered below his station.

Jolly chewed his donut calmly, purposefully, and very slowly. Anderson fidgeted in front of him, as if torn between waiting for Jolly to answer and his need to browbeat someone.

Jolly swallowed.

Well? Anderson jammed his hands on his hips.

When did I tell you I’d have it done? growled Jolly.

By noon today.

Jolly leaned in close and whispered in the little man’s ear. It’s seven AM, asshole. I said by noon, and it will be done by noon. Now get the fuck away from me.

The little man jumped as if struck. You –

Jolly’s glare cut Anderson’s retort and the short man backed away several steps.

You can’t talk to me like that! I’ll have your job!

Jolly snorted. If you got a problem, see my union rep and explain to him why I was fired for doing exactly what you told me to do, and doing it on time.

Anderson’s face darkened but his sagging stance told Jolly that the encounter was over. A rushed job hardly needed union problems.

With a huff, Anderson spun on his heel and stomped back to the supervisor’s trailer. The slamming door echoed in the yard.

Jolly didn’t take pride from the victory, it was just another log added to his smoldering anger. The iron shade he had drawn over any other feelings was unyielding.

Jolly worked the jackhammer on the six-inch-thick concrete slab – a slab that had been poured in the wrong place due to management’s hurry-up-then-redo-it attitude. A misty rain swirled down, a soggy herald of heavier weather blowing in. The tedious work and the sound of rain had his mind drifting again to last night, alternating between the flashing of a beautiful face and condemning black whips lashing his soul.

Last night had been important, somehow he knew that. A connection had happened that he felt deep within his being. And you just stood there like a moron! he said aloud, adding strength to the beatings. He fought to focus on the image of her beautiful face but years of self-flagellation won out, and he lost the battle. The emptiness drained him and the flashes disappeared. Again, there was only blackness.

The concrete was still green and the going was easy. He worked the jackhammer in short bursts, its rhythm reminding him of the M-60 he had carried in Vietnam.

Fire a burst of six! Fire a burst of six! That had been his drill instructor’s cry as they trained on the machine gun. Pull the trigger just long enough to say the mantra, then cease firing. The shorter bursts served to cool the barrel and allowed time to re-center the aim.

That had been in training. In combat, it became: Fire a burst of a hundred! He smiled for a moment at his rendering of the mantra.

The smile faded as feelings about Vietnam bubbled up. Damn. He had allowed his thoughts to slide there again. Thinking about ‘Nam always brought him around to thinking about Cheryl. Like a record with a deep groove, the needle jumped to that furrow and sang its sad song. He let the record play. He no longer fought it. Somehow, he must have earned this pain.

He had married Cheryl a month before he left for Vietnam. They were a happy couple, totally ignorant of the stresses of married life compounded by a long separation. Cheryl had faithfully waited for her husband, proudly wearing the badge of the poor suffering spouse. When Jolly returned, she tried to pick up where they left off, but where she had spent a year working in Woolworth’s, Jolly had spent a year in hell.

His belief in God and Country was smashed, and disillusionment and despair filled the void left by that departing duo. Cheryl left six months later and Jolly signed up for another tour.

His second tour had been easier. This time he didn’t care. That disregard for life won him a Bronze Star – and a Purple Heart. The painful recovery from the 7.62mm rounds that pierced his body had meshed perfectly with the anguish in his soul. For a while, his mind and body were in concert, giving him a twisted kind of satisfaction. Then his body healed, leaving only the jagged tear in his heart.

Time had eventually healed that tear as well, but the scar had hardened his heart. That hardness had surrounded his life, creating an impenetrable shell that let nothing in.

Until last night.

Chapter 2

His usual nighttime routine involved eating takeout, watching any sports on the tube – and drinking until he passed out. If there weren’t any games on, he would read from one of the many books stacked around his apartment like Greek columns – and drink until he passed out.

But last night Jolly had been coaxed into joining the work crew for drinks after their shift. He agreed, succumbing to the human need to be with someone, even if it was just another drunk.

They gathered at a construction workers’ joint called The Re-Bar to celebrate his foreman’s engagement. Jeff’s soon-to-be blushing bride, Angela, brought along a bunch of her twenty-something friends and before long a party was in full swing.

Fate seated Jolly across from Sara.

As soon as he saw her, the music in the room dimmed and the rest of the revelers faded into a gray mist. He couldn’t take his eyes from her. He didn’t know why. She wasn’t his type, but that didn’t matter. Every move seemed more enchanting than the last, from lifting her drink to brushing a stray strand of dark hair behind her perfect ear.

Her eyes were fascinating. The green, gray-flecked beacons of liveliness seemed to pull him out of himself and her siren voice filled him with peace.

An unfamiliar feeling of being alive awakened within him.

Her skin seemed to glow. She wore a long-sleeved tailored shirt and the small amount of flesh showing through the gap made by her buttoned cuff made him want to reach out and gently stroke it. That clear, lovely skin seemed almost translucent, allowing the richness of her spirit to blaze forth.

This unexpected enchantment killed his ability to converse. She glanced his way a few times out of politeness, and he hoped she wouldn’t notice his total infatuation. If she had leaned over and asked him to run away to Tahiti and live on coconuts for the rest of their lives, he would have been out on the curb, hailing a cab.

His inability to speak hadn’t left him deaf. He remembered every word she uttered. She responded to questions posed by other people, and he learned about the college she had attended, her estranged, domineering mother, her failed attempt at a travel business and her search for a new job.

In what seemed less than a heartbeat the evening ended and she stood and said her goodbyes. Jolly sat there like a dunderhead and just mumbled his response. He watched her walk away, still fascinated by the way she moved. She reached the door before he realized she was walking out of his life forever.

Pushing himself away from the table, he leaped to his feet. With a click-crack-foosh, his mind dropped another long-playing, deep-grooved record onto the turntable of his thoughts. It began with a few fuzzy scratches then sang to him its familiar, blaring lament about what a fat slob he was, and how no one would like him anyway. He struggled against its tenacity and managed to take one step toward the door, but in the end, the needle scraped into the grooves and halted his effort.

She disappeared.

Sara… He had always loved that name.

Sara Moirae…

Her name echoed in his mind. That sweet sound, and the feelings she unleashed, softened the walls that had hardened around his heart. That heart now pumped more than blood through his body.

It pumped life.

Chapter 3

The compressor died. Jolly dropped the jackhammer and checked his watch. He didn’t want to finish too soon and let that little asshole Anderson think his badgering had worked. He would finish the job at noon and not a moment before. Gas can in hand, he walked to the generator near the row of equipment and office trailers.

A rusty-brown 1971 Pinto pulled up between him and the trailer. The ignition shut off but the car continued to rattle and run with engine-knock for a few moments, then shut down with a hiss.

Where did you get that piece of- the rest of the sentence stuck in his throat as Sara Moirae stepped out from behind the wheel. A rush of heat flashed through Jolly’s body and he was struck dumb.

Hi, she said. She glanced around the construction area, and took a hesitant step toward him. Can you tell me which one’s the supervisor’s trailer?

Uh, yeah, he finally sputtered. He stared, not believing she was standing in front of him. Yeah. He pointed to the second trailer. It’s that one. He took a moment to inhale deeply and just drank in the sight of her.

She hitched her purse over her shoulder and her hand white-knuckled the strap. Sara looked totally professional, dressed in a dark-blue pantsuit and low heels, but her body radiated tension. I’m supposed to meet with Mr. Callahan for a job interview. Jeff, Angela’s fiancé, set it up for me.

Desire to erase the unease from her beautiful face drove away the feeling that he was floating in a dream. Nervous? said Jolly.

She closed her eyes and nodded.

Don’t be. Callahan’s a nice guy. You’ll ace the interview.

With a deep breath, her shoulders eased down and she took a hesitant step toward him. She held out a hand. Thanks. I’m-

Sara, said Jolly. We met at the party last night.

Yes. And you're Jon.

At her touch, a shock of warmth rushed up his arm and flashed into his chest. No, it wasn't warmth, more of a feeling of… forevers. An odd look passed over her face at the same moment and he released her hand.

I’m surprised you know my name, he said.

Sara smiled. It’s hard to forget… She pointed at his chest. Especially since it’s printed on your shirt.

Jolly glanced down his name embroidered on his Callahan Construction work shirt, closed his eyes and shook his head. He felt heat rush up his face.

With a swing of her dark hair she turned and headed for the trailer’s stairs. Wish me luck! she called over her shoulder.

Luck, he called after her. As she mounted the trailer steps his gaze drifted from her long dark hair to her shapely hips. His breath caught in his throat for a moment, then he smiled.

Today it seemed, the luck was all his.

Jolly finished breaking up the slab at the stroke of noon, and headed toward the lunch wagon. Already a line had formed at the Big Weiner food truck, but his eyes drifted to the brown pinto still parked at Callahan’s trailer.

Got a new crane crew on the job this morning.

Huh? Jolly forced his gaze away from the pinto and turned to Jeff.

Jeff gestured with a thumb over his shoulder. New crane crew.

Jolly glanced at the crane being assembled. Two in this small a yard?

Jeff huffed out a breath. Yeah. Anderson thinks they will get the job done twice as fast.

Asshole, muttered Jolly.

You got that right.

Jolly studied the crane truck again. Advance Crane? Never heard of these guys before. I bet it’s some maverick bunch that came cheap.

Hope they know what they’re doing, said Jeff.

Jolly’s gaze shifted back to watch for Sara but he realized the Pinto was gone. A pang of disappointment flashed over him for a moment, but he pushed it aside. He vowed to see her again.

Jolly sat on a pile of concrete blocks, ate his lunch, and plotted. If Sara got the job, she would be here every day. He’d memorize her schedule and bump into her often. Self-deprecation clamored for attention, but he ignored it this time. Something compelled him to seek her out. To get to know her. To be with her.

He stood and walked to the site, tossing his trash away in a barrel. His doubts went with it. His plan would work. It had to. With a start, he realized he was grinning from ear-to-ear.

A sharp crack and a metallic groan yanked his attention upward. A huge crane arm carrying a heavy load of iron bent sideways. With a loud clang it slapped into the building’s steel framework. Welds snapped like gunfire. The weight of six stories of ironwork shifted, placing enormous stress on columns never meant to hold such mass. The ground shuddered as the foundation heaved.

It’s coming down! shrieked a voice behind him.

Steel beams leaned toward the crew yard. At the base of a girder, Harry stood staring upward like a man frozen in time.

Run! Harry, run! yelled Jolly. When bullets started popping past their ears in Vietnam, he had had seen men freeze that way.

Jolly never had.

He dashed toward the petrified man, the speed from his youth flowing into his legs. He knocked Harry away from the collapsing girder and threw himself into the basement. The beams screamed like dying animals and crashed down with a deafening thunder. Falling girders tore loose a nearby electrical power line and sparks crackled in the air. Clouds of billowing dust roared down the street, sending a giant whirlpool of dirt and debris rolling over the construction trailers.

The blow on the back of his head from the fall grayed Jolly’s vision. Sara’s face floated before him. Translucent hands beckoned, motioning him to follow. Black tentacles held him, but as he fought to free himself her face faded into the dark.

He opened his eyes. Dust still settled around him and he coughed. A quick glance told him he lay in the basement, flat on his back. Bent and twisted girders pierced the sky like daggers, and wreckage lay strewn around him. With a ragged inhale, sharp bolts of agony shot up his leg. He knew it was broken and cursed himself with each stab of pain. He struggled to sit and grabbed a thick dangling wire to help pull himself up.

With a loud snap, electric current ripped through him, arching his body like a bow. The bright light at the juncture of his hand and the wire etched into his eyeballs, then ceased as his arm blasted backward.

He fell into a void of spinning darkness.

Chapter 4

Jolly opened his eyes, but the darkness remained. No, that wasn’t true, a sliver of light shone from a window across the small room. Hospital room? He closed his eyes and drifted back into the void, but a feeling that he somehow knew this room permeated his ebbing consciousness.

He awoke to a cool hand on his forehead and slowly opened his eyes. The hand partially blocked his sight, but he could see that several blankets had been thrown over the curtains to make the room dark. A familiar room. The hand moved away and he stared into the worried face of his mother.

Mom? He didn’t recognize his voice. A funny, high-pitched voice.

Your temperature seems to be coming down, thank the Lord. You had me worried for a while, Sweetheart.

He stared at his mother and could only croak out another fearful, Mom?

She smiled that smile he remembered so well.

A surge of pressure squeezed his chest and sent a blast of blackness to his brain that once more hurled him toward unconsciousness. But the face of his mother lingered before he fell into the abyss – his mother who had been dead for twenty-eight years.

Chapter 5

Jolly came to with a start. He still lay in bed, but he was alone. The blankets were gone from

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